An amateur’s journey in the beauty cosmos

I’m not shy about the fact that I LOVE beauty products. I don’t even wear much makeup myself, but I love playing with it. Into the Gloss is one of my favorite and most consistently read blogs. Birchbox makes me giddy about beauty samples and eager to experiment. I love how bold Ruby Woo makes me feel. I particularly love putting makeup on other people and pretending like I know what I’m doing. It’s like getting to be a painter… on someone’s face.

Source: Photopin.com, Creative Commons license.
Source: Photopin.com, Creative Commons license.

Big lessons learned

  • Your face needs more moisture and hydration than you think it does. Having oily skin doesn’t mean that you should skimp on moisturizer; usually, it means the opposite. You’re not getting enough hydration, and so your complexion overcompensates. Learning this one thing has revolutionized my actual face.
  • Splurge on face products; skimp on eye products. Having the perfect base, foundation, or powder matters. But no one can ever tell if you spent $5 or $50 on your mascara or eyeliner. Spend money on the important stuff.
  • Experiment until you find the right thing. Everyone’s face is different. Just because half the blogging world raves about this one product doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for you. Shop samples and travel-sized products when you can until you find what really works for you.
  • Curl your eyelashes! Unless you have naturally curly eyelashes, putting mascara on without using an eyelash curler first is kind of a moot gesture.
  • Also, learn what your eyelashes need. Study the composition of your eyelashes. Are they short but full? Long but sparse? I have decently long lashes, but they don’t look that full naturally, so I need a volumizing mascara. A lengthening mascara is a nightmare for me.
  • Embrace your natural brows. Don’t succumb to the sin of over-plucking your eyebrows. Define them, cherish them!
  • Trust your natural hair. Don’t fight your hair. Work with it; love it; embrace the frizz (or the straightness or volume or thinness, or whatever it is you were born with). It’s easy to tell when people are fighting against their God-given hair (and it’s often very expensive and time-consuming for such people). Surrender to your hair.
  • Stop washing your hair so much. Shampooing every day is so bad for your hair. So bad. Stop it. Your hair hates you for it. I now wash my hair twice a week, and it’s immensely happier and healthier for it.

Favorite products right now

Whish Coconut Milk Correcting Gel

Whish Coconut Milk Correcting Gel. $32. This was a Birchbox discovery, and I swear it’s the main thing that’s revolutionized my complexion, because I haven’t changed anything else. It’s a mostly organic serum that’s composed of aloe vera, water, and coconut oil, and I think it might be magic. It’s also marketed mainly to people who are aging and have skin imperfections. I’m aging (aren’t we all?) and I certainly have skin imperfections, and I think it’s really smoothed out my complexion — AND the biggest thing is that I’ve completely stopped having my seasonal acne flare-ups. I’m a bit obsessed.

Garnier Skin Renew Miracle Skin Perfector BB Cream, Light/Medium

Garnier BB Cream. $12. I’ve tried so many different types of foundations and BB creams, even samples of higher-end products that sell for $50 for a tiny tube, and nothing beats this drugstore version.

Ultra Facial Cream

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. $26.50. Yes, a lot of money for a little jar, but this is the best heavy cream/night-time moisturizer I’ve tried. Somehow I also trust it more because of its lack of fancy packaging? Reverse marketing psychology?

Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies WP Mascara

Maybelline The Falsies Mascara. $7. I’ve probably tried 25 different types of drugstore mascara, and this is my current favorite. I’m really into the slight curve of the brush.

Benefit Fakeup

Benefit Fakeup. $24. I am a very vein-y person. I have tons of veins on my eyelids, and I’m starting to get a bit of darkness under my eyes. This is the best eye-area concealer, because it comes with a moisturizing ring around the concealer itself, so it’s never flaky or drying, and it blends in perfectly with your skin. Love it.

Miss Jessie's Quick Curls -  8oz

Miss Jessie’s Quick Curls. $28. I went on a quest to find the perfect thing for my naturally curly hair, and this is where I’ve landed. I learned that my softer curls got too crunchy with gels, so I was hunting for curl creams. A lot of curl creams can get too heavy or greasy, but this is the perfect stuff. The cream is light and makes great curls on my head, and it smells very strongly of fresh laundry. Which is maybe kind of weird, but it’s not the worst thing for your head to smell like.

SheaMoisture Olive & Green Tea Body Wash -  13 fl oz

Shea Moisture Olive and Green Tea Body Wash. $9. Love this body wash, and I love how self-righteous it makes me feel! It’s all-natural with no parabens, mineral oils, chemicals, etc., etc.

Favorite brands

I’m not loyal to that many brands, because I’m always experimenting, but these three are my tried-and-true favorites.

  • MAC. The serious side of real-deal makeup, but I love everything I’ve ever tried from them. Their lipstick pigments can’t be beat, and their pressed powders are miracle workers.
  • Benefit. I’m not sure what this brand’s deal is, but I also love everything I’ve tried from them. They’re slightly less expensive than some of the more premier makeup brands, too.
  • Essie. It’s completely a looks-based judgment, but I feel like it’s classier than OPI.

One day, maybe I’ll try the really high-end stuff (Dior, Chanel, YSL), but for now, I’m enjoying the low-end experimentation.

Disclosure: I feel like this is not necessary, but whenever bloggers mention products, I get suspicious, so: I was not paid or asked to say any of this about any of these products. These are my independent and trivial opinions about beauty products.

A few of my favorite things

I am going to deviate from my typical attempting-to-be-serious-and-thoughtful fare and take a page from the Cool Lady Blogger (CLB) playbook here. CLBs love to make lists of their favorite products and then tell you why you should buy them. Unlike many CLBs, however, I was not paid or asked to write any of these reviews. I just like these things and use them every day.

Something that I used to keep secret that I am not keeping secret anymore, Interwebs, is that I really like makeup. (Feminists, recoil!) I love playing with makeup. I love shopping for it, even though I am very cheap and could never justify spending $65 on a tinted moisturizer, for example. The small irony is that I actually don’t wear a lot of makeup. But I love it just the same. So, from a now-outed cosmetics devotee, here are the things that I have found and loved.

Aveda’s Flax Seed Aloe Strong Hold Gel

Aveda’s flax seed aloe strong hold gel, $16.

I am a fervent evangelist for this product. I have been using it for more than 10 years now (just like my mom) and I will stockpile it like a crazy person if Aveda ever stops making it. If you have curly hair like I do, you also probably have your “magic product” that you can’t live without. This is mine. Most products marketed toward people with curly hair are greasy and not very strong. A nickel-sized amount of this stuff goes a long way. I use it every other day, right after I shower, and scrunch it through wet hair. Without it, I wouldn’t be presentable in public.

Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmers

Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmers, $5.

My mom’s store started selling these lipsticks from Burt’s Bees and ever since then I’ve been trying to collect them all. (College roommates routinely teased me for my weird, sprawling collection of these identical-looking yellow tubes.) But they are the best, and here’s why: Lipstick dries out your mouth and makes you feel chalky and heavy. These lip shimmers glide on smoothly, add a perfect dab of color, AND feel light and refreshing–producing the cooling effect that Burt’s Bees traditional lip balm has. I haven’t found a shade that I don’t like and I will probably be using these forever and foisting them on my friends. Favorite shades: Rhubarb (nice deep pink); Fig (my go-to fall color); Peony (very light effervescent pink); Papaya (rusty); and Raisin (deep red).

MAC Studio Fix Powder + Foundation

MAC Studio Fix Powder + Foundation, $27.

A pressed but simultaneously lightweight powder that magically smooths and finishes your complexion–and keeps the shine away for a long time. For $27, this stuff lasts me for about five or six months, and I think it’s totally worth it. I don’t like wearing foundation, so this is a wonderful compromise. Brush it on just like you would powder and you’re done for the day.

Sonia Kashuk Hidden Agenda Concealer Palette

Sonia Kashuk Hidden Agenda Concealer, $10.

Concealer is a bummer. I wish I still didn’t have to use it… but I do. And when you do need it, I recommend this set by Sonia Kashuk (at Target). Your skin tone changes with the seasons and your eye area is usually yellower than the rest of your face and so one color of concealer usually can’t cut it. This is where Sonia Kashuk comes in. This set also lasts me for months and months. Definitely worth the $10.

Boots No. 7 Mineral Blush

Boots No. 7 Mineral Blush, $10.

I looked for lightweight, non-glittery blush for what feels like ages (even though it was probably only a year), and I finally found what I was looking for with Boots No. 7’s mineral blush (sold at Target). Best blush I’ve ever used and I’ve tried dozens and dozens. Will never try another one for as long as they keep making this stuff.

Benetint by Benefit

Benetint, $29.

While shopping for wedding makeup, I knew that I had to find a lip stain for the big day. Guion flatly refuses to kiss me, ever, if I have anything on my lips (even chapstick makes him wary). We were advised to try Benefit’s well-known and widely lauded stain Benetint and so we did. It is wonderful. It is the perfect pink color and it lasted all day long. And best of all, Guion would kiss me at the altar! This reminds me that I need to save up and buy some more…

Essie nail polish

Essie nail polish, $8.

My friend Courtney is the queen of nail polish and she once gave me sage advice about it: If you like to paint your nails, buy high-quality nail polish. One bottle of good nail polish is worth more than 30 bottles of cheap stuff, which applies in globs and streaks and chips off in about three minutes. I finally took that lesson to heart and threw out all of my cheap polish. I’ve been exclusively buying Essie–gradually, slowly–and it is definitely worth it. It just makes me happy.

Mrs. Meyer’s Hand Soap

Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap, $4.

A bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s by the kitchen sink even makes doing dishes a pleasant experience. Favorite scents: Lemon verbena, geranium, and basil.

Whew. Is this what real CLBs feel like?

Week 3: Red lipstick

In honor of my sister Grace, I am imposing a set of weekly challenges on myself. For 12 weeks, I will attempt a different “challenge” each week–to do one thing every day for seven days, ranging from serious to silly. At the end of each week, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Red lipstick and a new haircut. Eek.

When I was 16, I routinely gave the announcements at my church. We went to a wannabe mega-church then and so giving the announcements made me feel like a big deal. I had to wear a headset mic* and make sure my face was powdered and my tone was smooth. One morning, I decided I was going to wear red lipstick to give the announcements. I was “backstage,” waiting for my cue before I went on under the harsh lights. A man who worked in production came up to me. “Hey Abby,” he said, and then he looked intently at my face. “What are you wearing?” “Um,” I was startled. “A skirt?” He shook his head. “No, are you wearing lipstick? Red lipstick? Don’t you think you’re too young for that?” I was mortified. I didn’t answer him. As soon as he walked away, I grabbed a tissue from a nearby table and wiped it all off. My teenage pride was sorely offended.

I don’t know if there’s really a moral to this story. Maybe I was “too young” to wear red lipstick, but I don’t think I am now. I really like red lipstick, but I’ve been afraid of it ever since this incident. Part of my aim with these weekly challenges is to conquer mental fears and so, here we have the silly week 3: Wearing red lipstick every day for a week.

I don’t actually have a huge collection of red lipstick and I don’t really buy costly make-up products, as you can see, but here’s what I used:

  • Revlon lipstick in Ravish Me Red. I really love this shade–I wanted one with an orange-red tint–and this stuff is not playing around. It lasted for at least four or five hours. It did dry my lips out considerably, however.
  • Lancome lipstick in Fashion Crave Framboise (I don’t think they carry this anymore. Heh. It’s probably old.) This is not technically red, but I mixed it with some of the other shades on some days that I didn’t want to be screaming BRIGHT RED.
  • Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer: Merlot. I can’t say enough good about Burt’s Bees’ products. I’ve been using their lip shimmers for years and I think they’re perfect. Inexpensive, light, and all-natural, they last fairly long and have great pigments.
  • Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer: Raisin.

I’m always inspired by how great Kate from For Me, For You looks with red lips and was delighted to find her make-up review post recently. I definitely want to try MAC products, because the reigning women of the Blogosphere seem to stand by them pretty loyally.

WHAT I LEARNED:

  • When wearing red lips, tread very lightly with the rest of your makeup, else you look like a circus performer. This was a good exercise for me, because I tend to be a big blush girl.
  • I think I will always be the staunchest Burt’s Bees devotee. I just like the way their product looks and wears, even more than the expensive stuff (like the $30 Lancome, which was definitely a Christmas gift).
  • I really like playing with makeup. If I were rich, I’d probably spend an ungodly amount on makeup. I don’t really wear a lot of it–my makeup bag is quite small–but I love to experiment with new things. It’s like painting! On your face! Guion was surprised when I told him this and didn’t really understand when I tried to explain my enjoyment of makeup. But that’s because he’s a spoilsport and won’t let me put some mascara on his obscenely long and luxurious eyelashes…
  • I can wear red lipstick! I CAN!

Coming next: A week of reading and studying Japanese!